This Week’s Blog by Andrew M. Eliot.
Do Grandparents Have any Legal Visitation Rights
In Connecticut, grandparents do not have any inherent or “automatic” legal rights with respect to access to or visitation with a grandchild. That said, pursuant to governing Connecticut statutes, a grandparent (and, in fact, any third-party), has the right to petition the court for visitation rights with respect to a minor child.
Under What Circumstances Will Connecticut Courts Grant Visitation Rights to a Non-Parent?
Pursuant to Connecticut General Statutes §46b-59, any person may submit a verified petition to the Superior Court for the right of visitation with any minor child. In order to succeed on such a petition, the person seeking visitation rights with a minor child must prove, by “clear and convincing evidence,” that: (i) a “parent-like relationship” exists between the petitioning party and the minor child; and (ii) that denial of visitation would cause “real and significant harm.” See C.G.S. §46b-59.
How Do Courts Assess Whether a “Parent-Like Relationship” Exists Between a Minor Child and a Non-Parent?
In assessing whether a “parent-like relationship” exists between a non-parent and a minor child, courts may consider (but are not limited to considering), the following factors:
- The existence and length of a relationship between the person and the minor child;
- The length of time that the relationship between the person and the minor child has been disrupted;
- The specific parent-like activities of the person seeking visitation toward the minor child;
- Any evidence that the person seeking visitation has unreasonably undermined the authority and discretion of the custodial parent;
- The significant absence of a parent from the life of a minor child;
- The death of one of the minor child’s parents;
- The physical separation of the parents of the minor child;
- The fitness of the person seeking visitation; and
- The fitness of the custodial parent.
Is the “Parent-Like Relationship” Standard Any Different for Grandparents?
Notably, the answer to this question is “yes.” In addition to the factors enumerated above, Connecticut’s governing statute sets forth one additional consideration for assessing whether a “parent-like relationship” exists between a non-parent and a minor child that is applicable only to grandparents. Specifically, Connecticut General Statutes §46b-59(d) provides that in determining whether a parent-like relationship exists between a grandparent and a minor child, the Superior Court may consider “the history of regular contact and proof of a close and substantial relationship between the grandparent and the minor child.”
How Do Courts Determine Whether Denial of Visitation Would Cause Real and Significant Harm?
While there is no definitive answer to this question, in situations where a petitioning party is able to establish the existence of a “parent-like relationship,” Courts typically find that the requisite harm standard is met were visitation to be denied due to the negative effects that severing such a relationship would have on a child. Stated somewhat differently, the requisite harm will generally be established where a third party who has acted as parent to the child is abruptly cut out of the child’s life.
What Will Visitation Look Like if a Non-Parent Petition is Successful?
If the Court grants visitation rights to a non-parent, the governing statute directs courts to set forth the terms and conditions of the visitation including, but not limited to, the schedule of visitation, time and place or places in which the visitation can occur, whether overnight visitation will be allowed and any other terms and conditions that the court determines are in the best interest of the minor child. Notably, in determining the best interest of the minor child, Courts are also directed by statute to consider the wishes of the minor child if such minor child is “of sufficient age and capable of forming an intelligent opinion.” See C.G.S. §46b-59(f).
Although rare, cases involving grandparent (or non-parent) visitation rights are often extremely complex and, in order to be handled properly, require a great deal of expertise and attention. At Broder & Orland LLC, we have extensive experience handling such matters and are poised to help clients achieve favorable results when such issues arise.